There are several ways to learn about bankruptcy and generate bankruptcy forms.
Do It Yourself
Bankruptcy books and websites abound, providing both basic and detailed information on filing for bankruptcy. After reading the information, many people find that they are able to understand the basics of bankruptcy law and prepare the forms on their own.
Arming yourself with information will never be a waste. If you plan to use a bankruptcy petition preparer, you'll have to read about and understand the whole process anyway. And even if you use a lawyer, it is still wise to understand the basics yourself.
Some good sources of self-help information are:
Self-help bankruptcy books. A good start is How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, by Stephen Elias, Albin Renauer, and Robin Leonard (Nolo) or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Your Debts Over Time, by Stephen Elias and Kathleen Michon (Nolo).
Self-help websites. Try Nolo's Bankruptcy Resource Center, which includes an online means test calculator, created by the author of Nolo's book How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, Albin Renauer, J.D. Once you enter your zip code, the calculator uses the applicable income and expense standards for your state, county, and region to determine your eligibility.
Government websites. You can find the official bankruptcy forms in fill-in-the-blank PDF format at www.uscourts.gov.
Get Help From a Lawyer
Depending on your comfort level with the law and the complexity of your financial situation, you may want to get help from a lawyer. There are several ways to use a lawyer in bankruptcy.
Legal orientation. You might be able to find a lawyer to give you an orientation (for free or a small charge) about your main choices -- typically, what type of bankruptcy to file, what exemptions to choose for your property, and what to do with property you are making payments on (such as a car or home).
Legal consultations. Some lawyers offer more in-depth consultations for a fee. You can get advice specific to your situation, and then prepare and file the documents on your own.
Legal representation. You can retain a lawyer to represent you from start to finish in the bankruptcy case. Obviously, this is the most expensive route.
If you want to talk to a bankruptcy lawyer in your area, turn to Nolo's Lawyer Locator to connect with attorneys in your area ready to help.
How to Choose a Bankruptcy Petition Preparer
If you decide to hire a bankruptcy petition preparer to input your information onto the bankruptcy forms, be choosy. Here are some tips.
Stay local -- don't use Internet services. Avoid bankruptcy petition preparers that operate on the Internet. You can't be sure that the paperwork Internet services prepare will meet the requirements of your local court, and you may end up having to hire a lawyer to untangle the mess.
Get recommendations. Ask family members, friends, or even lawyers if they recommend a local bankruptcy petition preparer.
Make sure the preparer meets legal requirements. Don't use a bankruptcy petition preparer that violates any of the requirements discussed above. For example, don't use one that attempts to give you legal advice, uses the word "legal" in their advertising or business name, doesn't use a contract for services, or asks you to give them the court filing fees. If the preparer plays loose with the law in these respects, you shouldn't use him or her to type your forms.
Check their fees. Check with your local bankruptcy court for fee restrictions on bankruptcy petition preparers. If your court doesn't limit bankruptcy petition preparer fees, make sure the fee is reasonable in your area (shop around). A reasonable fee is usually between $100 and $200.
Read everything. Read the contract for services before you agree to pay the bankruptcy petition preparer. And then, when the documents are done, read everything carefully. Remember, you are responsible for what is included on the forms.
The Bottom Line
Hiring a bankruptcy petition preparer can be an inexpensive way to get your bankruptcy documents done if you don't have access to a typewriter or computer, or simply want someone to do the data input for you. But remember what the preparer is -- a typing service. It's your job to know the law and decide what information goes on the forms.
For comprehensive information about bankruptcy, see How to File for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, by Stephen Elias, Albin Renauer, and Robin Leonard (Nolo) or Chapter 13 Bankruptcy: Keep Your Property & Repay Your Debts Over Time, by Stephen Elias and Kathleen Michon (Nolo).
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